Warm Weather Outdoor Essentials

by Dawn Smith 

The long winter has passed and the warm season offers many days for outdoor parties and gatherings. Basic preparation with pops of color and fun accessories will allow guests to enjoy themselves thoroughly. Visitors are most at ease when they are comfortable and the host has anticipated their needs before arriving. Luckily, these needs aren’t complicated; great food, clean spaces to mingle, comfortable seating, and as much nuisance control as possible.

Clean Space

Observe decks, patios, and porches to make note of clean-up tasks. The winter moisture may have encouraged mildew on decking or concrete blocks.  Professional power washing is the best bet, but there are DIY options as well. Today Show contributor Lou Manfredini of House Smarts recently recommended Wet & Forget Mold, Mildew, & Algae Stain RemoverHe also mentions the product Krud Kutter to clean siding and other exterior components.
In the spring, birds and bees like to nest in small enclosed spaces. Check the entertaining space for any insect or animal infestation. Rodents could have damaged rails or steps during the winter months. Small holes in wood may be repaired with exterior wood filler. To clean patio and deck floors, a long push broom or powerful leaf blower will tidy the space by removing leaves and other debris.

A top priority for successful parties is the perfect seating arrangement. Depending on space available, outdoor seating comes in many varieties that mimic indoor sofas and couches. Large L shaped sectionals are popular and can be found at outlets from Wal-Mart and Costco, up to luxury lines like Arhaus or Frontgate. Smaller five- to seven-piece sets that include multiple chairs, a low table, and a three-person couch are traditional combinations.
Dining collections with an umbrella for shade and four to eight chairs are another classic look. Finishes can appear in wrought iron, wood, and outdoor woven wicker or rattan. Smaller porches and patios will accommodate a small three piece bistro set or simply two Adirondack style chairs. All are easily refurbished if found second hand with a great paint product such as Krylon’s indoor/outdoor spray paint.  
Cushions that are thick and deep provide the most comfort for lounging with drink in hand. Choosing vibrant and patterned cushions make all the difference. In a landscape of natural hues, bursts of any color will draw guests to the table. Maintain their condition by keeping them out of the rain and bird droppings by storing when not in use. A matching storage bench will serve as additional seating while housing cushions and children’s toys. 
Serveware and Accessories

These pieces add personality to any outdoor space. Dining tables topped with colorful and unbreakable plates and glasses make the atmosphere festive. Patterns and monograms provide visual interest and conversation starters. Incorporating vertically tiered serving pieces easily make space for diners. Plastic beverage dispensers are invaluable for guests to help themselves to a premade summer cocktail or lemonade.
Entertaining accessories are all about a comfortable and homelike experience for guests which means accessibility without having to ask the hostess for a drink or napkin. A decorative galvanized or plastic bucket for icing beer and other beverages throughout the party allow guests to help themselves. A champagne or wine ice bucket can be elevated by a plant stand or left on a side table near the seating.
Thanks to the TV series Mad Men, bar carts remain en vogue. Antique carts are easy to find, but many furniture pieces can substitute for staging bar accessories, for example, small potting benches or tall side tables. A "necessities" tote or bucket can save a guest in a pinch. Gather bug spray, hand fans, sunscreen, allergy tablets, and stain removal wipes and leave it visible in case a guest needs assistance. 
Plants and Lighting

Shrubs and string lights are not necessarily the first visual focus when entering a backyard, but they provide foundational elements that ground the gathering space. Potted plants act like space dividers and hide unsightly objects such as air conditioning units. Large trees in containers offer shade and privacy. Guests may find an edible salsa garden or mint plant entertaining as they snip a sprig for a cocktail or cilantro for a Mexican dish.
Exterior lighting will be needed as evening approaches. Why not add to the plain porch light? Strung lights in many forms are readily available, as are torches and candles. Candles with citronella or other anti-insect specialty formulas will help to keep bugs at bay. Hanging lanterns come in many materials such as punched tin and painted metals. 
Non-Essential Items (but fun to have)

  • An outdoor rug will further define the space and add color or tactile interest. 
  • Industrial standing fans will cool the air and keep flies away from food. 
  • Outdoor gas fireplaces add ambiance and a bit of warmth for cool spring or fall evenings. 
  • A six-foot folding table with a decorative tablecloth instantly provides more space for a dessert table or other need. 
Preparing for a party is easy! Just think about the items or amenities you would like to have while attending a fun summer get together.  If you do go, don’t forget the hostess gift!